Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2022

The announcement that this year's Commencement speaker will be Bill Nye is disappointing. The issue is not that Nye is necessarily a bad speaker or that he would be a bad fit for Hopkins; rather this page's problem with the selection is that he just spoke to the school earlier this year.

It is a very strange choice, considering that a Commencement speaker should be imparting some important final advice upon graduating college students and that he already offered such advice in his speech at the MSE Symposium last fall. For the Student Council (StuCo) to choose such a speaker will prove to be to nothing more than a rerun for many seniors.

When deciding on whom to target for the selection process, StuCo made a number of questionable decisions regarding who should be selected as the commencement speaker.

The most disturbing excuse for targeting Nye over other potential candidates is that he's a non-divisive speaker. For one, when the current seniors were freshmen, former Vice President Al Gore spoke at Commencement. To say that Gore, a highly influential Democrat, is a completely non-divisive figure is absurd.

The fact is that we live in a political world. This is even truer in an election year than most years. To assume that having a Nancy Pelosi or a Michael Bloomberg (both of whom have connections to Hopkins and Baltimore) speak at Commencement would be detrimental or offensive is nonsense. Graduating seniors are about to enter the world as citizens and for that reason, they should be able to reflect upon and weigh the advice given to them.

StuCo exerted little energy in reaching out to seniors for ideas on Commencement speakers beyond just sending out mass e-mails asking for suggestions. Holding meetings that were engaging or inclusive or possibly more publicly searching for suggestions could have enriched the search exponentially.

At the very least, it is easier for seniors to accept the decision for the Commencement speaker if they are more involved in the decision process.

Furthermore it is disturbing that it appears that StuCo simply used the relationship already established by MSE to get a Commencement speaker. This lack of effort says something significant about StuCo's willingness to use their own capital to get things done for the student body.

A Commencement speaker is an essential aspect of the graduation experience. It is a class's last impression of the school that they have attended. Last impressions are important, especially for universities that hope for alumni enthusiasm in years to come. It would be unfortunate if the last impression that seniors have of Hopkins is mired with a feeling of resentment and alienation.

Hopkins has had a string of questionable selections for graduation speakers that led to dissent among graduating classes in the past few years. This trend cannot continue.

The University and StuCo should look into the prospect of paying Commencement speakers for their services. Most peer institutions do this for their graduating seniors, so at the very least, we should look into it, along with other potential measures. If paying speakers can result in consistently appropriate Commencement speakers, we should consider a change in the selection process.

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